Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians Follow-Up

The purpose of this follow-up post is to answer some questions that were raised in the comments of my post “1 Thessalonians 4 and the Pretrib Rapture”. The answers to these questions were much too long and in-depth for a simple comment. I felt they warranted a new post.

When I used the word “rapture” I was referring to the doctrine that at some point in the future Christ will somehow call (with the “voice of the archangel” and the “trumpet of God”) believers up to himself. According to this doctrine the dead believers will physically raise out of the graves and ascend to meet Christ in the air, followed by those are alive at the time of the rapture. Now the rapture of the dead in Christ poses its own problems because aren’t the dead already supposed to be in Heaven?? But, I digress.

This rapture, according to futurist eschatology, will be the first in a series of events that will lead to a new heavens and new earth. It will be followed by the “great tribulation” in which the antichrist will rise to power and then Christ’s second coming (which I guess it’s actually a 3rd coming) will happen and he will defeat the beast/antichrist and Satan and pretty much everybody else besides believers and then He’s reign for a thousand years, and then Satan will show up again (cf. Revelation 20) and then he’ll be defeated again. My definition, then, is that initial ascension of living and dead believers. Granted there are differing opinions as when this will happen, relative to the tribulation, but I have described here the pretrib definition since it seems to be the most popular (e.g. Left Behind). There is a great article that describes a different view of what Paul meant by “meet the Lord in the air” over at Undeception.

And to answer the other question concerning the rapture that was posed to me, no I do not believe that the rapture and the resurrection of the dead are synonymous. I believe the idea of a rapture is fabrication based on a misreading of scripture (mostly Matthew 24, Luke 21 and the like). But I believe that the resurrection of the dead may describe an event that has already happened (that is, it was a spiritual resurrection per 1 Corinthians 15:35-58). And before you call me a heretic, I do not mean to say that Christ’s resurrection was only spiritual. Christ came back from the dead physically exhibiting his power over Death and the grave. If He had not then our believing would be in vain and we’d still be in our sins, of all men most to be pitied. But He was raised and He even offered for one disciple to put his hand into his side and the nail prints in his hands. And I also do not mean to say that Lazarus (and possibly others) was not raised physically from the dead. In other words I do not mean to say that all resurrections are spiritual only. I am simply saying the eschatological resurrection of the dead of which Paul speaks is probably not completely physical. Please note that I am still trying to hammer this out myself.

I was also asked to “interpret 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 within the context of the whole of 1 Thessalonians.” This is a great question and the kind that I welcome. Both of Paul’s epistles to the church at Thessalonica were written to people undergoing great persecution. Paul’s charge to them was to remain hopeful because God was about to bring the relief. He was about to reveal His wrath against the ungodly men who persecuted the church (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 and 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7). This is the wrath of which the Thessalonian epistles speak, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the punishment on Israel for rejecting the Christ, from which the Christians were rescued because they fled as Jesus had warned them in Luke 21:20-24.

I could say more about all of this but it would be quite outside of the purpose for which I originally wrote “1 Thessalonians 4 and the Pretrib Rapture”. It’s purpose was to simply demonstrate that all of Paul’s descriptions of things to come in the Thessalonian epistles were written with the knowledge that he and/or his contemporaries would see them come to pass. As you can see the topic of eschatology takes a lot more to hammer out than a few posts and comments on a blog. It takes some serious Bible study, praying, and reading. For more reading on this I would suggest the following materials:

  • End Times Fiction by Gary DeMar
  • Before Jerusalem Fell by Kenneth Gentry
  • Paradise Restored by David Chilton

I am thankful for the thought-provoking questions because they have given me even more things to ponder and more reasons to stay in the Word. Thanks, guys!

Josh H.

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